Monday, November 24, 2008

Tacos with a Korean Twist

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Last month, I was online reading through my email when one came in with a subject header that immediately piqued my interest. Simply, I saw the words "Korean Taco Truck" and my world stopped. Korean Taco Truck? Even before I opened the email to read, I was ready to drive to wherever that truck happened to be parked just to check this food out. It almost didn't matter that I was snug in my pajamas at 11:00 pm in the suburbs.

Finally, I opened the email and it was an invitation from Alice Shin, PR person for Kogi BBQ, to attend a Korean taco tasting. A melding of Korean and Mexican flavors definitely intrigued me and I was already to RSVP Yes until I saw the date. :( Unfortunately, I already had plans that night, so I thought all was lost. Luckily, thanks to Kogi BBQ Founder, Mark Manguera, I was able to arrange a private tasting for me and a few friends this past Saturday.

As I was driving to our meeting place, I actually end up parking behind the Kogi BBQ taco truck, which wasn't hard to miss. It had a brightly orange and red sign with the Kogi name in black on the back of the truck. By the way, the word "Kogi" means meat in Korean. On hand for our tasting was Mark himself, his wife and co-founder, Caroline as well as Caroline's brother, Website Administrator/Photographer, Eric Shin and Chef Roy Choi, former Executive Chef of Rock Sugar.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

From Mark came the story of what sparked the creation of Kogi BBQ. Apparently, it started with a few bottles of champagnes that led to a discussion of how in Korea, street food was the best way to sober up, which in turn led to the subject of taco trucks and voila, a Korean taco truck was born. As for the menu, the recipes themselves are a collaboration between Caroline and Eric's mother and Chef Choi.

For this tasting, we got to sample 4 different tacos and one surprise addition. One tidbit from Chef Choi is that there is a different marinade for each of the proteins as well as a different dressing for the salad and sesame seeds that tops each taco. I really like the fact that he really thought about what would pair well together.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

My first bite was of the Korean chicken taco and I really appreciated how the meat was charred to a golden brown, giving it a light smoky taste. I also liked that the chicken had a just grilled taste to it and that the splash of chili sauce added a much appreciated kick. Then I sampled the Korean short rib taco. I loved how the grill gave the meat a wonderful caramelization that was both sweet and richly satisfying and with just a squeeze of lime, the flavor marriage of sweet and tart made this taco my favorite of the four we sampled.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Next came the sweet smoky heat of Korean spicy pork taco, which made my tastebuds quite happy; however, a squeeze of something quite unlime-like added a different dimension altogether. On all the plates that our tacos came on, orange wedges sat side by side with the lime wedges. At first, I thought the oranges were some kind of palate cleanser, but Mark actually encouraged us to use it as an alternative to the lime. He's definitely on to something. A squeeze of orange juice on my pork taco added a wonderfully refreshing citrus-y component that really hit the spot.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

If you're a vegetarian, you were not forgotten. Kogi BBQ also offers tofu tacos. Compared to the other three tacos, the tofu tacos were my least favorite and not because I don't like tofu either. The tofu needed more flavor and I wasn't that enthralled with the silky texture of the tofu itself. Now if that tofu was deep fried and perhaps marinated more, it would be a different story. Also, regardless of which taco you chose, the nice thing about them is that all the meat are cut into smaller pieces. That means that you don't have to worry about a big piece of meat hanging from your mouth just because you couldn't bite it off. What a relief!

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

In addition to the meat fillings, I also liked the dressed lettuce and sesame seed mixture that topped all of the tacos. The salad was light and enhanced the flavors of the tacos without detracting from them. One thing I personally would like to see is the addition of more "crunchy vegetables" that I can add to my taco experience. Thankfully, there's already some thought into creating some kind of kimchee/radish slaw and/or using cabbage as a way to add additional texture to the tacos.

After four tacos, we thought we were done, but Chef Choi decided to surprise us on the fly, with short rib sliders on Hawaiian bread rolls. How cool is that? I think the concept is great, but I think that there needs to be some additional recipe development. For my particular palate, it was just too sweet. The addition of the mayo actually helped cut that sweetness a little bit, but just not enough for me. I should add though that some of the tasters in the group liked the sliders as is, so it could just be preference on my part.

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

One thing that I forgot to mention is that along with the tacos, you'll be able to order burritos using the proteins mentioned above as fillings. In fact, you can even order a breakfast burrito, which contains eggs, hash browns, cheese as well as the meat of your choice. I could see myself scarfing down a short rib breakfast burrito topped with a little chili sauce for my first meal of the day. How about you?

Overall, it was a great experience. Mark, Caroline and Eric were great hosts and Chef Choi's food was fantastic and definitely memorable. I am officially a fan and I'm definitely looking forward to not only tasting even more of Chef Choi's fusion creations, but also seeing how far this venture will go (hopefully, well enough so that a Kogi BBQ taco truck will one day be hanging around in my neighborhood).

Korean Taco Tasting with Kogi BBQ

Kogi BBQ


mattatouille said...

very cool! as a korean, i must check these guys out.

Aaron said...

Not to steal their thunder, but some of these tacos sound like a promising experiment for a dinner at home. Thanks for the heads-up Abby

pleasurepalate said...

mattatouille: I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Aaron: I'd love to read how your experiments at home went. :)

Anonymous said...

Food mash-up! Can't wait to try them, will have to hunt them down this week.